A Periodization Approach to Vertical Jump Training

January 26, 2016 - By 

Periodization of training is something that has been massively misunderstood in athletic circles. When it is used incorrectly an athlete can go around in circles not making any gains. However when used correctly, periodization can be of immense benefit for someone looking to improve their vertical jump. In part one of this two part topic we examine exactly what it is and why it works, and just as importantly, why sometimes it doesn’t work.

What is Periodization

If you do a rudimentary internet search of the term periodization you will find all sorts of lovely text book sounding definitions. However in plain English it is the act of planning your training out into distinct phases each with a separate short term goal (fat loss, strength, power, speed, etc). These individual phases are designed to build on the prior one to culminate in you reaching peak condition for what is commonly known as the competition phase.

How you split out the phases (duration, focus, exercise selection, intensity, training volume etc) will depend on a number of things including the physical requirements of your sport, the needs of the individual athlete, and the frequency and duration of the competition season.

For example Olympic lifters might cycle their training to peak once every four years (an Olympic cycle) whilst a pro basketballer has to focus on getting ready for a new season every year.

An Olympic weight lifter also has to focus on training for an event that essentially requires them to lift once in a matter of seconds. A NBA basketballer on the other hand needs to be able to compete over 48 minutes using a combination of speed, power, strength and endurance.

It is stating the very obvious to note that different sports have different training requirements and as such a periodized approach must be tailored to address those specific needs.

Why Does Periodization Work

Periodization works because it ensures you are always taking steps forwards towards an ultimate goal. In our case, we want to jump higher. So do we build our strength with heavy weights, or maybe we should we drop body fat to make ourselves light? Maybe we should concentrate on plyos to get quick and explosive?

Each of those three traits are important in developing a huge vertical jump, but each requires different sorts of training. The key is to identify which one you need to focus on first, then train for that. Once you have reached a certain level of proficiency, then you start training for the next requirement and so on.

Training this way is much better than a hotch-potched approach of weights one week, plyos another, maybe a bit of both in there somewhere.

By focusing your training on the attainment of one short term goal you will reach it much quicker. To illustrate you see people in gyms who say they want to lose fat and build muscle. Whilst this isn’t impossible, they are essentially two mutually exclusive goals. Burning fat and getting lean requires calories restriction, and cardio on top of weights. Building muscle on the other hand requires calorie surplus, little to no cardio, and plenty of heavy lifting. It is easy to see why aiming for these two things at the one time is doomed to fail.

If you just focus on building muscle you will get there much quicker by just lifting heavy and eating more. Once you have the muscle you can progress to the next goal of fat loss (the extra muscle will help with that too). In the long run, you will make more consistent, more rapid and much greater gains.

If we were to look at this from a vertical jump perspective we might start off with a reduction of body fat phase, then go to a strength phase, and then a more power/plyo based phase. It makes no sense to try and lose body fat whilst at the same time trying to build maximum strength. You just end up sending confusing signals to your body and limiting your improvement.

Downsides to Periodization

The type of periodization we discuss here is known as Western or linear periodization. The two most common criticisms of this type of approach are that in focusing on only one athletic trait at a time the others tend to deteriorate, and also, not all athletes have the available time to spend working through all the phases.

These are both valid arguments against a linear periodization approach. With regard to the loss of one athletic trait as you change phases, modern interpretations of periodization recognize the importance of certain traits and accordingly programs are designed to minimize any losses of these abilities by incorporating continued maintenance work during the other phases.

For example, an athlete trying to improve their vertical jump having high levels of strength is important as it is the base for their muscular power. Consequently even in the later phases of the program (transition and competition – see part 2 of this topic) they are advised to continue some heavy lifting in order to maintain the gains they made earlier.

The criticism of time constraints is also valid. To a certain extent this can also be mitigated by shortening the duration of the less directly beneficial phases to allow for more prioritizing of the important ones. For example, if you are already an experienced lifter with decent muscular size and aren’t carrying any serious injuries or imbalances, you probably do not need to spend too much time in either the adaptation or hypertrophy phases.

Who Should Use Periodization

This type of planned out training methodology isn’t necessarily for everyone but there are two groups of athletes we feel can benefit greatly from this kind of approach. These are people who are new to weight training, or who have the luxury of longer periods of time can benefit the most from taking a linear periodized approach.

For our money the main benefits that it provides are in the way it progresses from phase to phase.

This foundation will not only help you minimize injuries, but also helps you to learn the correct techniques of the various lifts, helps you set baselines from which you can improve, and also helps you progressively adapt to the ever increasing demands of the training.

For more advanced athletes, or those with time constraints there is another popular periodization technique known as the conjugate method. This system is preferred by the world class powerlifters at Westside Barbell and many Eastern European countries. This involves mixing and matching exercises, loads, rest, tempo etc in order to train more than one strength trait at a time whilst also avoiding burnout.

The 5 Phases of a Periodized Training program

According to famed athletic coach Dr Tudor Bompa in his book Periodization Training for Sports (2005), there are 5 major training phases a power based athlete such as a vertical jumper should work through in order to maximize their performance. These are:

1. Anatomical Adaptation

2. Hypertrophy

3. Maximum Strength

4. Conversion

5. Competitive and Transition

As was mentioned in part 1, and as we will show you further along in this article, each of those phases develops the building blocks on which you progress your training towards your ultimate goal (in our case an improved vertical jump).

So without further ado lets get into them in detail.

Phase 1: Anatomical Adaptation

For a vertical jumper the goal of this first phase of periodization is to prepare the athlete for the future demands of their more focused training. During this phase you would work on your flexibility and co-ordination, rectifying any muscle and strength imbalance concerns between agonist and antagonist muscle groups, aerobic and anaerobic work capacity, strengthening ligaments and tendons, and also in the treatment and recovery of any injuries the athlete currently has.

The idea is to expose the athlete to a wide variety of exercises in order to have them functioning efficiently. This often takes the form of circuit training or a series of full body workouts.

The length of this phase will depend on a variety of factors including how long you have to devote to your total program, your level of experience in strength training, the level of importance of strength in your sport or activity, and your starting levels of general fitness.

Phase 2: Hypertrophy

The Hypertrophy phase of periodization is as the names suggests designed to increase muscle size and strength. In theory bigger muscles are stronger muscles. The reality is that bigger muscles have the potential to be stronger muscles. This is what we are aiming for here. To build muscle so that you have greater potential to gain strength in the next phase.

The training in this phase consists of weights with loads of approximately 65-85% of your 1RM for 6-15 reps per set. Rest periods are generally shorter at around 60 – 90 seconds between sets.

Once again the duration of this phase will depend on the experience of the athlete and the importance of strength for the activity. For vertical jump training strength is obviously very important, but also must be tempered against building too much size as this can have a negative impact on your jumping ability.

Phase 3; Maximum Strength

The goal of this phase of a periodized program is once again self explanatory – build maximum strength. This is obviously very important as power is a product of both your maximum strength and the speed at which you can apply it.

Strength is built by working with higher percentages of your 1RM (85-100%) for lower rep numbers (1-5), with several minutes rest between sets. Usually maximum strength training involves less number of exercises, instead focusing on the key maximum load capable lifts such as squats, deadlifts etc. The duration of this phase, as with them all will depend on the athlete and the demands of their sport.

See also: Strength Training

Phase 4: Conversion

Now we are starting to get to the good stuff. This is where you start turning some of that brute strength you have developed into explosive power, and consequently, into a huge vertical jump. You will however need to try and maintain your strength levels during this phase or your total power output may decline. Thats the bad news. The good news is that it is significantly easier to maintain your strength than it is to improve it.

For an athlete trying to convert strength to power such as a vertical jumper, this phase will generally last 4-5 weeks. It will be made up of plyometrics and ballistic weighted exercises such as jump squats (which don’t necessarily have to be weighted but for stronger athletes it is advised), medicine ball throws, kettlebell swings, etc. For the speed component of this phase loads will be much lighter, if any, with the focus more on improving rate of force development and contraction times.

Phase 5: Competition and Transition

The competition phase of periodization is more commonly known as being in-season. The goal here is to try and maintain your strength throughout the season so as to minimize de-training. Often the sport itself provides enough stimulus to maintain the speed element of your power levels. For example a volleyballer in season will be doing plenty of jumping as they play their games. Any extra plyometric work for example could possibly over-tax the CNS and the bodies ability to recover.

The transition element of this phase occurs right after the season finishes. This period is used to just recover physically and mentally from the competition. Here you treat any injuries and just take a total break to refresh your body and mind. The longer the competitive season the longer you would require to recover. That said, an athlete doesn’t want to rest totally for too long or they again risk de-training.

What To Do Once You Have Compelted All 5 Phases

Once you have been through a full cycle of periodization the obvious thing to do is work through it again. Depending on how well you maintained your strength during the season and how fatigued you are you might only have short adaptation and hyper trophy phases, preferring to get right into the maximum strength and conversion phases again.

However it is important to note that these phases also serve an important role in ensuring motivation levels are maintained so they should not be skipped altogether. Remember, each phase of periodization builds on the prior one in an effort to peak for the competition. By skipping or not doing sufficient work in certain areas you weaken your base and will limit your vertical gains.

It is for this reason that we would believe that all athletes when they start out vertical jump training should go through at least one, maybe two full cycles of a periodized program.


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